Archive for May, 2010

New Beginnings

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

11 May 2010 turned out to be a great day for me, a fairly good day for David Cameron and Nick Clegg, but a hannus horibilus one for the surly Scotsman Gordon Brown. My daughter gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Emilie Kate, weighing in at a handsome 8lb 4 oz. My son-in-law called her a little bruiser because he knows no better since he is English. I was just coming to terms with my daughter marrying an Englishman but I now have to deal with the temerity of my granddaughter being born in England. I tried to persuade my daughter to slip over the border into Wales for the birth, but her husband had her chained to the bed post for the last couple of weeks of her pregnancy. However, all is not lost. I’m planning to smuggle her into Wales when I fly over to visit and she can claim her natural birth right. She looks more like a Celt than Anglican with a shock of jet black hair, and I’m so grateful for my web cam and skype which provides me with the opportunity of tuning in to see my granddaughter from 4000 miles away.

 Meanwhile while I was basking in my good fortune, Gordon Brown announced his resignation as Prime Minister paving the way for a peacetime Coalition Government for the first time in British politics since the 1930s. Following the General Election on May 6th Britain experienced its first hung parliament since 1974 with no party having a clear majority. The Conservatives won the most seats with 305, Labour won 258 and the Lib Dems finished with a disappointing 57. Nevertheless they held the balance of power and boy did they take advantage.

  For five days, Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader indulged in horse trading with the two other parties. Clegg spoke to Brown on the phone and suggested an alliance may be possible providing Brown stepped aside as Prime Minister. It is rumored that Brown threatened Clegg with a Glasgow Kiss (a head butt) and told him in no uncertain terms “to shut the front door.” Meanwhile negotiating teams from the Tories and Lib Dems feverishly continued to arrive at a consensus acceptable to both parties.

 The day before, Brown had resigned as leader of the Labour Party but was determined to soldier on as Prime Minister until the Party Conference in October. However, senior members of the Cabinet had made public statements overnight stating that it would be wrong for the Country and the Party to prolong the agony any longer than was necessary. Brown, realizing the game was up, quickly resigned paving the way for a Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition Government. Cameron was ushered into a Daimler and rushed off to inform the Queen he was forming a Government.

 Now there’s been a load of garbage espoused about Clegg’s dalliances with the two major parties. My brother, God bless him, claimed that Clegg will be forever remembered as the man who killed the Lib Dems, and described him as a man without a shred of integrity and  a lust for power. Hello! He’s a politician for God’s sake! The “bedwetters” and “tree huggers” melodramatically claim that Cameron will cut, slash and burn. If he manages to substantially reduce the national debt and eradicate wasteful spending on the welfare state, he can add pillaging to his manifesto if he so chooses.

Labour supporters cried foul and  claimed that historically the Party has its roots in the trade union movement. They argued that the union represents many thousands of people and their donation are upfront and visible. Most of Lib Dems are left of Center with perhaps a purer view of ideology than most so they would be a more natural bed fellow. I don’t remember Labour supporters bleeting when Tony Blair abandoned socialist principles and claimed the left of center ground as his own to get elected. Blair was no more a socialist than the former Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath.

 Cameron said that we have a duty and obligation to look after the most vulnerable and the poorest of Society and the world. But we are not there to prop up those who opt out of society but still expect that society to support them. Membership of a union can take away an individual’s rights to choose and have union donations withdrawn from their salary or wages regardless of whether they support The Labour Party.

 From a different perspective is it morally acceptable for the two losers from this election to form a coalition government? Conversely, if you believe in democracy doesn’t it make sense for the two parties who represent 60% of the votes to share power? This political marriage was not made in heaven and indeed there are key policy differences between the two parties which require compromises from both sides:

  • Constitutional Reform: Lib Dems wanted a referendum on proportional representation and an immediate bill on introducing  the alternative vote system (AV.)
  • Foreign Policy and Defence: principally UK’s relationship with the European Union and Lib Dems’ demands for Trident (nuclear war head) to be scrapped.
  • Deficit reduction and taxation: both parties will take the flak for severe cuts, but where these cuts will fall is open to speculation.
  • Education, children and families: the parties have agreed to proceed with a pupil premium which will be targeted at supporting the poorest children
  • Environment: Both parties have agreed to work towards a low carbon economy with the Lib Dems dropping their opposition to nuclear power stations.
  • Home Affairs: Lib Dems will drop their call for amnesty for illegal immigrants and a regional system for employment, while the Tories will work with the Lib Dems to modify a point-based system for immigration.

 Clearly this is a marriage of convenience and both parties have made major concessions in attempt to get this Alliance airborne. There are already signs that Cameron has alienated certain factions of his Party. Clegg on the other hand has managed to have five of his MPs appointed to top ministerial jobs while several more will earn minor jobs in Government. Over half of the Lib Dems will serve in the Government with Clegg awarded the title of Deputy Prime Minister. Better half a cake than no cake at all.

 Let me give you a piece of advice: fasten your safety belts because you could be in for a bumpy ride

Footnote: Congratulations to Blackpool for reaching the premiership by defeating our arch enemy Cardiff City in the Championship Playoff Final. I’m  a Swansea Jack and naturally support Swansea City who narrowly missed the playoffs by one point. Summer will be far more relaxing now that the Bluebirds suffered the same fate as the Swans.

The Wailing Banshee and Peanut Lady

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010


I used to enjoy air travel but alas not any more. I have flown internationally and domestically for over 20 years and I have been disappointed, actually annoyed, to witness the rapid deterioration in service on flights. I do not expect flight attendants to look like Miss America or have the manners of an angel as was the norm thirty years ago, but I would like to anticipate basic standards of decorum and civility. That should not include a 200 pound flight attendant waddling down the aisle oblivious of dislocating shoulders of aisle passengers and screaming at the top of her inarticulate vocal cords: “Trash, trash, trash, trash…..”

 Let me give you a piece of advice. When it comes to snack time and the attendant is pushing that gruesome trolley down the aisle, don’t think of reading a book because by golly they are determined to fracture an unsuspecting protruding elbow or two. Speaking of snacks these are relegated on domestic flights to a packet of cookies or a minute packet of peanuts. Little did I know? I was returning home from Tampa recently wedged in between two well fed ladies. One was wearing a surgical mask and fiddling with an array of pills and portions stuffed in the pocket attached to the seat in front of her, and the other lady was trying to penetrate my rib cage with her generous elbow while leaning her ample frame on my wilting shoulder.

 I was considering my options: would I prefer to be crushed to death by  or contact some deadly disease from the woman in the surgical mask? I was contemplating my fate when the flight attendant made an announcement over the public address system: “Hear this, hear this. One of our passengers has a severe allergy to peanuts and consequently passengers sitting in rows 19-25 will not be offered peanuts on this flight. You can accept the cookies or suck it up. That is all.”

 I was sitting in row 20, and by keen observation, I assumed that I was sitting next to the peanut lady, but grateful in the knowledge that she wasn’t the carrier of some killer virus. Quite predictably the attendant casually tossed a packet of cookies in my direction and asked me what I wanted to drink. “I would like a sprite please,” I replied in a pleasant tone. To which she gave me a cup of water and a withering look, and  muttered under a breath: “Just be grateful that you get to sit next to the flight’s celebrity.” Almost on cue, the peanut lady crossed her legs and inadvertently rendered a painful blow to my knee.

 On the subject of knees, a few weeks ago I was traveling back on the “red eye” from Salt Lake City. The flight had been uneventful and the plane landed in Atlanta at about 6.30am. The exit doors were opened and the passengers began to leave the plane in an orderly fashion. I was separated from my bag by a few rows and elected to wait patiently in my seat before attempting to leave the plane. Suddenly a woman’s piercing scream rudely invaded the peaceful tranquility of another dawn. It appeared to reverberate from the vicinity of the exit door. My curiosity was aroused and I stood up to find out what was happening. One of the female flight attendants had dropped to the floor in a crumpled heap and let out another ghoulish sound usually reserved for a Halloween party. One of her associates attempted to help her to her feet only to be told unceremoniously by the victim to leave well alone. One of the lady passengers announced she was a doctor and offered to assist but the wailing banshee replied: “Don’t come near me; I will be okay in a minute. I had a dislocated knee and it pops out now and again such as aagh!” Another nightmarish howl followed. Meanwhile the captain emerged from the sanctuary of the flight deck looking nonplussed probably wondering whether it was safe to come out.

 One of the passengers suggested sending for a wheel chair to assist the stricken lady from the plane only to be told by another attendant in no uncertain terms that she wanted all the passengers off the plane as quickly as possible and the flight crew would take care of their fallen comrade. Meanwhile the wailing banshee had gotten to her feet looking ashen faced and trying desperately to act composed. It was my turn to head for the exit when the poor lady let out yet another blood curdling cry and keeled over yet again grabbing her knee.

 With no thanks to the flight crew, the passengers leaving the plane had behaved impeccably in very trying circumstances. I have sympathy for the flight attendant who was obviously in agony, but I have to wonder whether flight crews are required to take regular and rigorous medicals. The events of the flight from Salt Lake City would suggest otherwise. Nobody can convince me that the attendant could have undertaken her prescribed duties if an emergency had occurred. A lack of civility is one thing but endangering the safety of passengers is another matter.